Is a headless CMS right for your organization? 6 questions to ask
A content management system (CMS) plays a key role in your customer experience management (CXM) strategy by fueling innovation and accelerating digital transformation. This, in turn, drives real business value. Over the years, the content management space — especially its technology — has evolved significantly. But modern capabilities come with their own upsides and downsides. One such capability is the headless CMS architecture.
In a traditional CMS, the content is created, managed, and delivered via a monolithic architecture — lowering the total cost of ownership and helping marketers to author and publish personalized content with low coding expertise.
However, a traditional CMS restricts front-end developers to the UI/UX capabilities of a single technology, inhibiting them from innovating on the website front-end, and complicating cross-channel content delivery. In a world where less is more, developers want to innovate and leverage an API-first approach where they write less code that performs more actions.
Here's where a headless CMS comes into the picture — separating content delivery (the head) from its backend creation and management. The content can be delivered to various front-end platforms using APIs. This architecture lends front-end developers the flexibility to work on the latest UI/UX tools and ensure that their website is always at the top of its game. This has prompted most organizations to move towards a headless architecture.
Taking the call to go headless
While going headless is the emerging trend for large organizations to create customized experiences by the dozen, it can quickly turn into a double-edged sword. The move to headless is often not well considered and may not be the right approach for all. Even though it ensures a superior front-end user experience and allows organizations to scale their technology stack, it also inevitably creates the need for a larger developer resource pool and increases time-to-market as well as the cost of maintenance. It's a trade-off that needs to be carefully considered while prioritizing your customers’ needs.
To get maximum value out of a headless model, it’s important to break down your business goals and your delivery channels with their use cases and your content reusability.
Begin by asking these 6 enterprise-level questions to understand if headless is the way forward for your digital experience composition.
1. What is the role of your content?
Not all digital experiences need multiple touchpoints. And not all website content needs to be dynamic. Where, when, and how content fits into your digital ecosystem relies heavily on your industry needs and organizational goals.
For example, in ecommerce, users interact heavily with a website day in and day out — fueling the demand for real-time customized experiences. Banking websites, on the other hand, deliver customized user journeys that don’t necessarily evolve by the day.
A pure headless approach can lack user-friendly authoring — extending the initial design/build phase of efficient content delivery. Lengthy turn-around times — from ideation to deployment — can also cause problems in the long run. For example, errors can occur in the JSON configuration at the backend, affecting design in the front end.
It’s sometimes imperative to prioritize operational simplicity over architectural agility — to empower business users to easily manage content with a tool that offers them the level of control that’s required to meet the needs of their customers.
2. Do you have a large developer resource pool?
While headless models give front-end developers the freedom to build platform-specific designs, it’s still a code-heavy task, and there’s also a learning curve.
Most developers today don’t want to walk up that learning curve. Instead, they want to code less, yet create something faster, which can be tricky in a headless scenario. Depending on the content structures created at the backend, sometimes, the entire website navigation needs to be built from scratch on the front end. Despite the development of low and no-code solutions, a headless CMS requires a highly skilled DevOps team. So deploying a large pool of trained full-stack developer resources — at least in the initial phase of a headless implementation — may be crucial.
Identify how quickly you need to meet your business goals and if you have the resources in-house to adapt to the headless model. Make sure your teams are agile enough to meet the rapidly evolving front-end technologies.
3. Can you afford it?
Going headless is an investment. It involves initial set-up costs for a complete overhaul from your traditional CMS. Separating your UI from the content data means that the tools, design, and implementation skills can vary greatly from your current set-up, adding to the cost. IT teams also need to develop and maintain different systems and applications, which can increase the total cost of ownership. Remember to factor in the hiring and training costs for these resources.
With front-end best practices still emerging, it can be hard to instantly hire or upskill developer resources to keep up with a technology that’s evolving much faster than other technology stacks.
Headless should be advantageous, not an overhead for your business. Consider the factors above and its maintenance along with new channels, new possibilities for customized designs, and unforeseen future costs before going all in. It may be wiser to wait it out till you’re ready — both from a financial and skill standpoint.
4. Have you defined your use cases?
Do you need a separate presentation layer to localize content across websites developed for different countries? Or do you want to make content authors more independent to increase content quality and productivity?
Try and define various use cases before taking the headless approach. Rethink your business users’ operations and end-customer journeys. Consider the number of channels your content currently caters to and if you can leverage existing templates for content reusability.
Revisit your digital marketing strategy. Analyze how often your website content gets updated and how it impacts your end-user experience. The more use cases you can define, the easier it will be to take the call to go or not go headless.
5. How digitally mature is your organization?
Best practices for front-end technologies are still emerging. Going headless requires agile teams and highly skilled developers to cope with new use cases being defined as and when new channels are developed.
Identify where you are on your digital transformation journey — what is your digital maturity, what are your digital capabilities, and where are the gaps? Be prepared to adopt fast-evolving headless capabilities on the go — with a prior allocation of resources and expenses. Partner with vendors who can speed up the process for you with expertise in hosting backend content and creating content delivery frameworks.
6. What is the status of your current CMS?
Digital experience composition is evolving by the day, and so are the architectures of a CMS. Work with your current CMS vendor to understand their product roadmap and future licensing implications. See how you can leverage existing technology to reduce the time-to-market and increase the value of your content experiences.
Mix and match with a hybrid mode
Adobe Experience Manager comes with the best of both worlds — the efficiency and ease-of-use of a traditional CMS combined with the flexibility and scalability of a headless architecture.
With Experience Manager, front-end developers get the freedom to create and update user applications faster, content authors get the freedom to choose between using an existing template or delivering their content via APIs. And the Content and Experience Fragments within Experience Manager give you a plethora of options to go headless when desired.
Strike the right balance with Adobe Professional Services
Not sure if headless is the way to go? Adobe Professional Services can help you align your next steps to your strategic business goals and bring out the best in Adobe Experience Manager to create more value. We can also help you define the use cases where you truly need headless capabilities.
Contact Adobe Professional Services to build your customized Experience Manager architecture based on your organization’s unique requirements.
If you’d like to hear more from Santosh, take a look at his other recently published blog post.
Santosh Mishra is a senior technical architect at Adobe. His primary area of focus is Adobe Experience Manager. He has been working on Experience Manager for the past 12 years. During his tenure with Experience Manager, Mishra has worked closely with different customers, partners, and vendors to deliver large scale Experience Manager implementations and migrations. He specializes in different aspects of Experience Manager, such as Commerce Integration Framework and Experience Manager as a Cloud Service.
For the past three years, he’s been helping customers in migrating to Experience Manager as a Cloud Service. He has active interest in artificial intelligence and serverless cloud platforms like Apache Openwhisk and Blockchain.